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Did MP Charles Chong spread ‘fake news’ on the eve of 2015 GE?

by Vincent Low

On 8 Sep 2015 just 3 days before 2015 GE, People's Action Party candidate for Punggol East Charles Chong distributed flyers alleging Workers' Party has somehow "lost" $22.5 million of town council funds.

"The indisputable fact is that when Punggol East was transferred to the Workers' Party, $22.5 million was transferred to the new town council. That sum is now unaccounted for...," he wrote. Note that he even used the word "indisputable" in his allegation against WP.

Final KPMG report clears WP-run AHTC

On Thursday (15 Feb), Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) finally said that it has resolved all its outstanding audit issues and ended its engagement with auditors KPMG, concluding a two-year long clean-up of its accounting system and internal controls.

In the report, KPMG confirmed it is "reasonably satisfied that AHTC is compliant with section 35(c) of the Town Council Act" and that all audit points and control-related matters identified earlier have been resolved.

Issues flagged previously include incorrect computation of required transfers to the Sinking Fund and incomplete disclosure of transactions with related parties in the financial statements. It also had to undertake various measures to remedy the lapses, such as to strengthen the capabilities of its finance department and to replace its accounting system.

WP MP Png Eng Huat counters Chong's accusation

Writing on his Facebook page on the same day (15 Feb), WP MP Png Eng Huat took the opportunity to dispel the accusation put forth by Charles Chong on the eve of 2015 GE, which no doubt, must have swung certain number of votes against WP.

Mr Png explained that by the time WP got wind of the flyers distributed by Chong, it was already Cooling-Off Day. After the election, which Chong won by a slim margin, Mr Png met him to discuss the handover matters.

"I asked him about the alleged missing $22.5 million. I told him we would want to return every single cent to PE residents if he could point out what this money was all about," Mr Png recalled.

"In every audited financial statement since 2013, there was $22.8 million to $26.3 million attributed to PE sitting in our accounts. He brushed off my question and said he had already explained. I did not recall there was an explanation given anyway."

Mr Png then waited until PRPTC, now under PAP, filed its annual report in 2016 and noted that there was $24.7 million attributed to PE sitting in its book too. And finally, the KPMG report also exonerates WP with regard to the imaginary "missing" $22.5 million as alleged by Chong.

"I waited further for KPMG to publish its final report to complete the final piece of the puzzle. The final report speaks for itself," Mr Png added.

"We will never solve the mystery of unaccounted $22.5 million now as none of the audited statements from the two town councils and special reports by KPMG and PwC (hired by PRPTC to also look into the accounts of PE after GE2015) could shed any light on the allegation," he countered Chong's allegation.

"The end of the KPMG audit also marks the end of my attempt to find some answers into this matter."

Ironic for Charles Chong to chair Select Committee to look into "fake news"

Ironically, Charles Chong was appointed in January this year to chairing the newly set up nine-member select committee to look into combating 'fake news'.

Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam said in Parliament on 10 January, "Wide spreading of falsehoods can drown out the facts, can cause people to be disillusioned, can be manipulated to create rifts and damage social cohesion. So, the people who shout loudest and shout falsehoods are those who will get hurt."

Falsehoods, because they tend to be focused on playing to people's feelings and getting them to be angry by putting forward points which are completely fabricated.

A very senior officer in Sweden is reported by BBC to have said – and this was reported last week – disinformation as a tool, as a campaign, in the context of Sweden has had effect. It affects Sweden's "fundamental values: freedom of speech, democracy and individual rights".

Ultimately, if left unchecked, such deliberate spread of online falsehoods can undermine trust in the country, in the institutions, in democracy and affect social cohesion.

So, Mr Deputy Speaker (Charles Chong), Sir, I am asking Parliament to appoint a Select Committee, to examine and report on the causes and consequences of deliberate online falsehoods; and the countermeasures that will be required to prevent and combat them in Singapore.